July 13, 2006

Always greener

I am really hard on lawn mowers. The average lawn mower seems to be designed for someone taller than me so I push at the handle at the wrong angle. Perhaps the bigger problem is that I'm an impatient person who runs over rocks and tree stumps and toys that have been left outside. I can't even count how many lawn mowers I've totalled over the years. One of them even caught on fire, although I swear, I have no idea how that happened.

As soon as we buy a lawn mower, it morphs into a decrepit machine with flaws that will annoy me. Our current mower stalls out about every ten minutes and has a wheel that falls off after about half an hour. When the wheel falls off, I kick it and start swearing, which surprisingly does nothing to fix the problem, but does make me feel better. Lawn mowing is a great sport for releasing aggression.

Our house is set back from the road, which makes for a big front yard, and our big backyard is a septic field that needs to be mown. It's not really a lawn, or at least nothing like the kind of lawns you might see in surburbia, all flat and level and filled with grass. Our lawn has hills and groves of trees and lots of little gardens in odd places, and the ground is covered with tree branches and stalky things like purple loosestrife. It's mostly weeds and wildflowers and clover, with the glossy leaves of poison ivy at all the edges.

Normally, I don't mind mowing the lawn – I just go out in the morning, pick a random patch to mow, stop after about half an hour of nice exercise, kick my sneakers off to leave in the sun, and then go in to take a shower to wash off the poison ivy juice. Then the next time the mood to mow strikes me, I pick another random patch. Shaggy Hair Boy, who got assigned the chore of mowing lawn after both his older siblings complained about how badly they get poison ivy, has the same random method of lawn mowing. So at any given time, parts of our lawn are all different lengths.

Today, though, we decided to mow the entire lawn. See, we are having a graduation party for Boy in Black on Saturday, which gave us the ambitious idea to cut the whole lawn at once. The grass was pretty long because we’ve been on vacation, and some of the weird stalky things were quite high. The nice thing to do would have been to mow in the cool of the evening, but the only way I could do that here is if I tried to mow the lawn while wrapped in yards of mosquito netting.

So instead we ended up mowing the lawn in the hot sun when the air was so humid that I felt like I was moving in slow motion, pulling through thick layers of wet heat. I’d mow for about half an hour, shoving the mower through what amounted to a thick field of weeds, while big drops of sweat slithered down my face and back. When I felt like I was so thirsty that I couldn’t stand it another minute, I would go into the sweltering hot house for a drink, and let Shaggy Hair Boy take a turn.

At the end of the afternoon, I stripped off my sweat-soaked clothes and took a cool shower. I admired how nice the lawn looked, all ready for party, and I was feeling all heroic about the effort we’d made. I felt I deserved a break, a few hours in some air conditioning, so I made plans with my daughter, my niece, and my mother to go out to the movies.

In the car on the way to the movies, my mother mentioned that she had mowed lawn today too. She is in her seventies. Her lawn is bigger than mine. And she somehow mows it all without swearing, losing her temper, or breaking her lawn mower. She's had the same lawn mower my whole life, I think, whereas I seem to break one every couple of years. The conversation made me feel less heroic, but I enjoyed the evening out in a cool movie theater anyhow. And I still felt I deserved some popcorn and lemonade for all my hard work.

33 comments:

Jane Dark said...

So, what did you see at the movies?

I swear and get miserably sweaty even when I haven't been mowing the lawn and busting the lawn mower; actually, I've been known to joke that a tendency to sweat is the only thing I have in common with Katharine Hepburn.

MindSpin said...

My back yard has in common with yours all the stalky things. And the poison ivy. The Johnson Grass at the back looks almost like corn coming up and grows a foot a week. Since my mower is an electric rechargeable, it has a heavy battery, and it's work for me to push. I call it my gym membership. It's good exercise, and I don't have to smell gas fumes, but only fresh cut grass.

Its weakness, however, is also its virtue. I bought it when I was renting a house with a smaller yard, and it won't mow even half of this yard at a time. So my lawn is different heights, too. The good thing about the limited battery life is that it gives me an excuse to quit after 45 minutes. Though I love being outdoors working in the garden, pushing a mower is not a task I relish, and I'm less and less fond of lawns altogether, unless they come with labor-saving devices of the two-legged sort. They are such unreasonable propositions.

Though I mowed in the evening last night (swathed in insect repellant), it must have been just as humid here as it was in your part of the country. I was likewise drenched.

peripateticpolarbear said...

obviously you were entitled to the lemonaid and popcorn.

Silver Creek Mom said...

I more have weeds than a lawn I have to keep under control. ANd I am spoiled I have a lawn tractor and 2 mowers. but even so it takes over 11/2 to cut my yard, it's to keep the bee's away. My young man and bee's do not get alone at all.

I hope the movie was good and the the lemonade was refreshing.

jo(e) said...

We saw The Devil Wears Prada. One of my daughter's majors is magazine journalism, and she said everyone in one of her classes had been talking about it. And Meryl Streep is a fantastic actress.

Marie said...

Shhhh! I'm sure this will get me thrown out of this nature-loving blogosphere, but we PAY someone a measley $17 to mow our smallish lawn. But if I could write about it like you, who made me laugh out loud, I think I might reconsider.

Did you love the movie? My favorite line: "No, no, that wasn't a question."

jo(e) said...

Marie: Oh, I totally applaud anyone who supports the teenage population in their town by paying them to cut lawns. That is how Boy in Black earned the money to pay for his drum set.

I think Meryl Streep carried the movie. That line, which was so perfectly delivered, is an example. Her expressions, timing, and body language gave her character depth.

Chip said...

you'd think someone would have developed a naturally very short kind of grass that doesn't need mowing by now...

We have a pretty small yard, so I use an old-fashioned push mower. I love the sound it makes as I push it. It is not quite as effective as a power mower, and I do sometimes have to go back over longer patches, but it does the job. Plus we're conspiring to shrink our lawn by expanding our garden now that the kids don't need the lawn to play kickball on anymore.

Rachel's Big Dunk said...

Chip,

When I lived in Kansas City, they DID have a special kind of grass that grows very slowly, is incredibly lush and completely chokes out weeds. It is called Zoiza (or something like that.) The down side is that it goes dormant and straw colored in the winter. Which means here in New England, we would get about a month of green and the rest of the time it would look, well, dead.

My husband does the lawn with a gas powered mower. When I feel like tackling it, I use an old fashioned push mower. It is quiet, doesn't require gas and cuts a beautiful lawn.

missymusing said...

Lemonade...delicious...

I don't know where this fits in with feminism, but mowing our lawn is what qualifies as what I call a "Man Job." Don't get me wrong, I could do it, but I decided there had to be something "himself" does exclusively. Plus, I am afraid of powered blades like mowers and circular saws.

Glad to hear you retreated to some AC for a while, jo(e)...

jo(e) said...

I think feminist analysis can say a whole lot about division of labor in a household. I've tried really hard (not always successfully) to avoid gendered roles in my household because I don't want my children saddled with those rigid ideas. It seems like it would be unfair and arbitrary to make my husband to do all the lawn mowing just because he is a man. Actually, it would be very impractical as well because he is not home during the day -- he does not have the same flexible schedule that I do. And of course, the reverse is true as well. I don't want to get stuck with all the cooking and cleaning and laundry just because I'm a woman.

I would say that fear of powered blades might be a valid reason not to cut lawn. When I use a circular saw, I am fanatical about safety precautions because that kind of blade does seem dangerous to me ....

I'm envious of all of you with the old-fashioned push mowers. I wish I could find one that could successfully work on the kind of landscape I have here.

Scrivener said...

So long as I don't try to cut the lawn more often than every few weeks, I kind of enjoy it to be honest. It's especially fun when you're halfway done and can see thigh-high grass in one big square in the middle, with the shorter grass surrounding it. It's fun to cut strange patterns into it, too.

missymusing said...

Don't get me wrong, I think that lawn mowing is the only man job in our house, everything else is a team effort, which is what we try to show our almost-8 yo 'bonus' son (Himself's son, we don't use the term step-anything). I just like to tease Himself that it's his man job, but he knows it's due to my irrational fear of dismemberment.

Phantom Scribbler said...

We have an old-fashioned push mower. Much as I love it, there is no. frickin. way that it could effectively keep someplace like yours mowed. But you could always get a goat ;-)

Linda (FM) said...

I have sort of romantic notions about mowing the lawn, but then again, I've never done it...well at least not since I was a kid. I just think there'd be something meditative about the rhythm of up one row and down another.

Dr.K said...

I saw _Devil Wears Prada_ too, and really liked it. I like Meryl Streep of course--she did carry the movie, and she's such a terrific actress that it's always a pleasure to watch anything she does. But what I really liked was watching Anne Hathaway for an hour and a half, and I didn't even have to be furtive about it. My goodness gracious, is that woman beautiful, or what? I did think about your Smart Beautiful Wonderful Daughter person during the movie--maybe she's heading for New York and the whole sophisticate trip?
Right now, I have to put off mowing because I got carried away with a chain saw last weekend and cut down three giant honeysuckles--monstrous plants--growing along our fence row. The yard is completely strewn with branches. I've been sweating all week in the rainy, tropical sauna getting the stuff cut up, bagged, composted, and some of it just tossed over the fence into the neighbor's woods, but there's such a pile of brush over there already that I feel I've maxed out that means of brush disposal. But I just love the humidity, I have to admit it. The woods smell wonderful, and the air is so thick here that it's actually nutritious on its own--you don't need to eat as often when you're inhaling all that watery tree-breath all day. I expect to get the branches squared away today or tomorrow, then I'll put on my baseball cleats and mow--the yard is so hilly that it's dangerous to mow without them. Monday, my son, my brother, my neice and nephew, and I are leaving for a backpacking trip in the Smokies--the humidity there is staggering! Once a shirt gets wet, that's it for the whole trip. It never dries. I can't wait!

jo(e) said...

A goat? Phantom, don't give my kids ideas.

liz said...

My sister, whose nearest neighbor is a cattle farm, is letting her daughter (future vet!) get a goat. They already have a dozen chickens, two rabbits, a dog, and a cat.
"It was a horse or a goat," my sister said. "And a goat saves work in terms of mowing."

liz said...

And I loved The Devil Wears Prada. I could watch Meryl Streep read the phone book.

Chip said...

don't laugh about the goat. I just met a guy who for a while raised goats exactly for the purpose: to "cut" peoples' lawns. On the other hand we have friends in the country who have a few goats. They'd love to get rid of them but their kids (now older teenagers) are very emotionally attached to them (!!).

listmaker said...

I'm seriously considering a push mower when I finally finish killing my current gas powered one.

jo(e) said...

Dr. K: Oh, I agree that Anne Hathaway is beautiful. I just figured that you would be disappointed that she had clothes on for the whole movie.

I'm jealous of the backpacking trip to the Smokies. Weren't you going to invite me on one of those trips? Maybe next year on our way to ASLE?

Shelly said...

Maybe I should take up lawn-mowing! I'm all for aggression-releasing outlets.

Rana said...

I'd love to have a goat eat my lawn. ;)

As you know, I've been waging the battle of the lawn rather fretfully this spring. All that rain, combined with all those trips, just got to be too much.

I got a call from the lawn mower repair folks earlier this week, and they said that I had burnt out the motor! So I ordered a new mower instead, but it won't arrive until August.

This means that from now until then, someone else will mow the lawn! With big powerful machines! EEE!

Funny about the lawnmowing being a "'man job" -- that was certainly the case growing up -- it was Dad or my brother who mowed, and when I moved here I just sort of assumed that D. would do it. It didn't turn out that way, though, given that I'm more fussy about it, and also more adept with mechanical and electrical things. In any case, more than half of the people I see mowing in our neighborhood (who are not for-hire) are women. So around here, push-mowing is a woman job. (Men universally are the drivers of the riding mowers.)

jo(e) said...

It's funny that lawn mowing was the probably the one chore that didn't get assigned along rigid gender lines in my family of origin. My father has a bad back so my mother always did the mowing.

In my old neighborhood, I can remember neighbors telling me very seriously that I shouldn't mow the lawn when I was pregnant -- despite the fact that it was a very small lawn and easy to mow. I always just ignored them.

Rana, I think my ability to destroy lawn mowers might be rubbing off on you. Burnt out motor? Oh, that sounds familiar ...

Dr.K said...

jo(e): I didn't mind that Anne Hathaway kept her clothes on the whole movie. I would have absolutely blown a fuse. (All this flagrant nudity all over the place gives me the heebie-jeebies anyway. We don't indulge in that kind of nonsense where I'm from.) And aren't we supposed to take some English lady camping next summer? I'm up for it. Maybe our guy friend from Chicago or the one living in Arizona now can come too?
I'll think of you when I'm swimming (with trunks on--my niece is coming with us) in one of those chilly mountain streams.

jackie said...

We have a very small patch of lawn (urban rowhouse) so I take care of it with a weed-whacker. I grew up with a single mom, so my sister and I shared the lawn-mowing responsibilities for most of my adolescence. I still remeber one day in middle school, when a friend with a very traditional family and I were talking about our parents, and she said, quite seriously, "If your dad doesn't live with you, then who cuts your grass?"

I felt very proud of being able to say, "I do!" I like my girls seeing me do it too.

pPB said...

jo(e), you obviously need a goat. It's good for the environment. it would eat your grass and your leftovers, too. I think jo(e) really, really, really, needs a GOAT! (unless you think you'd catch a goat on fire, and then, in the interest of animal welfare, I rescind my petition)

MindSpin said...

I wanted goats. Still want them, but futilely. My Homeowner's Association seems to think that two short-legged Jack Russells who dig out of their pen, run up and down the neighborhood, and bark a lot make better neighbors than a pair of goats. Go figure.

MindSpin said...

Oh, forgot this. Goats eat poison ivy.

Lisa C. said...

My father is "allergic" to cut grass, so he always foisted the mowing off onto my mother, and later onto me, when I got big enough to push the mower. Now when R accuses me of never mowing, I assure him I have done enough mowing to last me a lifetime. When the Moosh gets older I will probably start mowing our lawn again. Right now we have a guy stop by on an as needed basis.

Our neighbor mows his lawn two or three times a week. He also mows part of our lawn, I guess as an encouragement for us to mow the whole thing as often as he does. It doesn't work.

My mother mowed the lawn the day before she gave birth to my sister C. So poo on those who say you shouldn't mow while pregnant!

Erin said...

Is this pregnant lawn mowing done with a push mower or a self-propelled? (I ask for future reference.)

All of my parents participated in lawn mowing, and although I would prefer it to be one of my fiance's chores (along with snowblowing and scooping the kitty litter boxes), I can't start our gas-powered, self-propelled, mulching mower. Plus, he is rather cavalier about the whole thing and prefers to mow at the shortest setting to extend the period of time between mows.

So I've been doing the mowing this summer with an old electric flip mower. It's hard work! I always end up dirty, sweaty, and red-faced. But I like how it looks and feel a sense of accomplishment.

jo(e) said...

Erin: It was a small gas-powered push lawn mower.

To be honest, I can't think of anything physical I refrained from when pregnant. As I got bigger, I would just take things slow, prepared to stop if my lower back hurt or I felt uncomfortable.